The idea that anyone is going to boo David Beckham when he steps out at Old Trafford for this evening's Champions League game is absurd. Old Goldenballs will get the rapturous reception he deserves, both for past achievement and current dignity. Plus it helps that he is no longer the potent force he once was: so much easier to be magnanimous to someone who, as the depredations of time curtail any contribution he might make, is not going to do you any harm.
He also plays for the right team. Historically, at Old Trafford, boos are rarely directed in the direction of the players of Milan, a club which has always been hugely admired in Manchester M16. Besides, the locals have other targets for their ire just now.
I have been surprised at the degree of animosity which has greeted the announcement by the Red Knights group that they intend to wrest control of Manchester United from the Glazer family. The mockery has gone beyond mere tittering about the irony in a bunch of bankers and hedge fund managers riding to the rescue of an institution originally formed as a recreational outlet for a bunch of railway workers. There has been much sneering in the media and on web forums of everything from the group's name to the number of its members.
The tone has been: Who are these people and what makes them think they can run the place any better than the current incumbents? And what were they thinking on leaking the notion that they had the support of Alex Ferguson to the Observer? Anyone with any common sense would have told them that the wily old manager was way too canny to attach himself publicly to any revolutionary movement.
Well, that was an error, probably brought about by a surfeit of enthusiasm from someone not really in the loop. As sources go, let's say, the Observer was not dealing with the highest or most authoritative. And yes, it could be argued that there has been a little too much in the way of moral indignation and not enough clarity of financial purpose from the group.
But this needs saying: it is not just for the good of Manchester United and its supporters that the Glazers are dispatched back to Florida, it is for the good of the whole of English football. And if it is the Red Knights who are the force that sends them on their way and re-establishes a more benign regime at the country's wealthiest club, then all power to their cheque book.
Here's why it is imperative for the good of the game that ownership like the Glazers' is expunged. Superficially, it may not appear to be the case, but the Premier League is among the most egalitarian operations in European football. In Spain, for instance, the difference in television income from domestic matches between those who finish at the top of the league and those at the bottom is nearly £100 million. In England, it is about £20 million.
Moreover, the Premier League provides large amounts of money to grassroots football development through the Football Foundation and even provides clubs in the lower divisions with money for youth development. If, for instance, Darlington drop out of the Football League into the Conference, they will receive £180,000 from Premier League funds to maintain their youth system for another year.
This egalitarian distribution is the result of a majority vote of constituent members of the League. It is not in United's interests for them to pursue a collective system, they would make far more money as the most attractive club to television, were they to go their own way. The Glazers know this and are anxious to break with the tradition of collective bargaining at the earliest opportunity. They also know that the next round of streaming rights, the one which will send live video goal alerts to mobiles across the world, is potentially the most lucrative of all. That is why they want to stay on at Old Trafford, not because they have any love for the place or understanding of its culture, but for the pot of gold at the end of the streaming rainbow.
Indebted as they are, the imperative would be for them to make United go it alone into the brave new world of the rights, immediately diminishing the value to the rest of the league. Hang the other clubs, hang the idea of equable redistribution, hang their wider responsibility to the English game. With debt on the scale they have larded on the club they have no other choice: all that matters to them is paying down the debt in order to ratchet up their personal profits.
The Red Knights may not be perfect, indeed they may well be a bunch of bankers, but at least their senior members have an understanding of how English football works and of the huge responsibilities a club like United bears within the structure. This is why the fight against the Glazers - and Hicks and Gillett and the predators circling Arsenal and the idiots who pushed Portsmouth into the mire - is a fight everyone needs to support. The fact is, if the Glazers are allowed to go it alone, they could jeopardise the future of the entire game.
- Old Trafford